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British Journal of Sociology of Education

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The Paradigm Wars: reports from the front

Martyn Hammersley

To cite this article: Martyn Hammersley (1992) The Paradigm Wars: reports from the front,
British Journal of Sociology of Education, 13:1, 131-143, DOI: 10.1080/0142569920130110

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Published online: 06 Jul 2006.

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British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1992 131


The Paradigm Wars: reports from the front

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The Paradigm Dialog

E. Guba (Ed.), 1990
Newbury Park, Sage

The Nature of Social and Educational Inquiry: empiricism versus

J. K. SMITH, 1989
Norwood, NJ, Ablex

Having rightly concluded that philosophy was of some importance to the

sociological enterprise, sociologists (and I am one) have used that
discipline much as the military might use a guided missile. Safely fired in
the conviction that it will seek and destroy, the solider need know little
of the missile's true workings and consequences. Likewise for the
sociologist. Recognising the incipient power of labels borrowed from
philosophy, sociologists have strewn them about with little regard to
their detailed signifiance. Indeed, if armies were so irresponsible (and
they may yet be) I should not be writing, nor you reading, this essay. We
would have long since vanished in drifting clouds of nuclear fallout.
(Tudor, 1982, pp. 1-2)
In a recent futuristic sketch of research on teaching in the two decades from
1989, Gage refers to this period as "the paradigm wars and their aftermath"
(Gage, 1989). There is no doubt that the 1980s and early 1990s have seen
growing debates among educational researchers about methodology, sometimes
taking the form of conflicts between incommensurable paradigms in which
philosophical terms have been used as weapons. The two books under review
provide us with an insight into the current state of these debates, as waged on the
other side of the Atlantic.
At face value, these two books are quite different from one another. One is a
collection of conference papers, the other an introductory text. However, they
132 Review Essay

share more in common than these descriptions imply. Both the editor of the
collection and the author of the introductory text (who also contributes a paper
to the collection) are leading representatives of what they term constructivism, a
view about educational research that seems currently to be gaining ground in the
USA. This view dominates both these books. One of my purposes in this review,
therefore, will be to explore and assess this perspective.
The Paradigm Dialog is presented by the editor as an authentic, rather than a
sanitised, representation of a conference held in San Francisco in March 1989.
Thus, the structure of the book broadly follows the rather complicated organisa-
tion of the conference, but the focal point is the division among three paradigms,
held to represent the current state of educational research methodology: post-
positivism, critical theory, and constructivism. The book opens with a chapter by
Guba giving an overview of these paradigms, and this is followed by presentations
from representatives of each of them (Phillips, Popkewitz, and Lincoln). The first
section concludes with a discussion of the implications of the paradigms for
practice (by Eisner). The rest of the book is organised into sections dealing with
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specific topics relevant to the relationships among the three paradigms: the
possibility of accommodation between them, ethics, goodness criteria, implemen-
taion, knowledge accumulation, methodology, training, and values. Within each
of these sections there is a main paper, a response to it, and a summary of the
main points arising in discussion at the conference. The papers and responses
present a variety of views, though the majority seem closest to constructivism. The
final section of the book consists of an informal ethnography of the conference
by Peshkin, a report from auditors at the conference who were given the
responsibility of identifying possible future developments, and some closing
reflections by the editor. Having declared his commitment as a constructivist in
the opening chapter, at the end Guba expresses the hope that the divisions
among the three paradigms can be transcended into a "better informed" and
"more sophisticated" meta-paradigm (Guba, 1990, pp. 370-371).
This volume suffers from some of the failings of 'authentic' collections of
conference papers. One is the considerable uneveness in the quality of the
chapters, along with an occasional failure to connect, even in the case of what are
supposed to be responses to other papers. There is also a substantial amount of
repetition. Each of the presenters in the sections on specific topics seeks to
structure her or his discussion in terms of the three paradigms, and as a result
they go over some of the same ground, albeit from slightly different angles. This
problem is worsened by the fact that many of the topics are very closely related,
so that discussion of one inevitably spills over into the others. While this is a much
more coherent book than most conference collections, like them its value hangs
on the quality of particular papers. For this reason, and for reasons of space, my
discussion of it will be very selective [1].
The Nature of Social and Educational Inquiry is an introductory account of the
philosophical assumptions implicated in the methodology of social research. It
treats these assumptions in terms of a contrast between two approaches or 'logics
of justification', variously referred to as empiricism/externalism/objectivism on
the one hand, and interpretation/internalism/relativism on the other. The open-
ing chapters introduce these two approaches and sketch some of their history.
Subsequent chapters address areas where these approaches are most sharply at
odds: the relationship of the investigator to what is investigated; the realtion
Review Essay 133

between facts and values; the goals of inquiry; and the role of procedures in the
inquiry process. The book concludes with the author declaring that it is unlikely
that advocates of these two approaches will agree and that "eventually we must
somehow 'transcend' this issue and develop new ways to think about the nature of
inquiry", but that at present it is impossible to see how this might happen (Smith,
1989, p. 173).
Smith's book covers many of the key issues relevant to his theme, and shows a
knowledge of, and sensitivity towards, the philosophical literature that is absent
from most of the chapters in Guba's collection. It is pitched at a relatively
elementary level. However, because it deals with complex issues, readers new to
the field may nonetheless find some of it difficult. There is no doubt that, given
the degree to which social and educational researchers have become em-
broiled in philosophical debates about methodology, some such introductory text
is required. As will become clear later, I think this book suffers from a fundamen-
tal flaw in perspective; but this does not nullify its value.
While Guba employs a three-fold division of paradigms and Smith a two-fold
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one, their two schemes can be easily related to one another. Smith effectively
deals with positivism and post-positivism together, and largely ignores critical
theory, while his interpretive paradigm is substantially equivalent to Guba's
constructivism. Indeed, in his article in Guba's collection Smith uses Guba's
typology without apparent distortion of his views. (For convenience, in the
remainder of this review I will often refer to positivism/post-positivism as
Paradigm 1, construtivism as Paradigm 2, and critical theory as Paradigm 3.)
Divisions into methodological paradigms like these are of course by no means
new, and these two schemes have close analogues elsewhere. The distinction
between Paradigms 1 and 2 is a variation on that between quantitative and
qualitative approaches. Indeed, in an earlier formulation of his views Smith
employed this terminology (Smith & Heshusius, 1986). His shift to other terms
reflects a desire to emphasise that the differences between the paradigms lie not
at the level of methods or techniques but rather at that of philosophical
assumptions, both about the nature of the social world and about knowledge and
the process of inquriy. Both Smith and Guba regard the ambiguity between
technical and philosophical levels of the earlier terminology as a problem, and
even in The Paradigm Dialog Guba complains that some of the contributors failed
to maintain this distinction between levels.
Guba's three-fold division also corresponds broadly to that used by Habermas,
distinguishing between empirical-analytic sciences, hermeneutical sciences and
critical science (Habermas, 1987), a typology that has been widely employed by
others [e.g. by Fay (1975) and Bernstein (1976)]. However, the order of presenta-
tion, the relative value given to the different paradigms, and some details of their
definition, differ in Guba's account.
It is worth considering briefly the dangers of such typologies of methodological
approach. An obvious one is that they reduce a complex field of variation in
perspective and practice to a small number of possibilities. Thus, Smith's typology
largely excludes consideration of the critical theory tradition. And even Guba's
typology by no means exhausts the range of variation. This can be shown by
comparing it with the three-fold division used in a recent book by Alasdair
Maclntyre (1990). While Maclntyre is not concerned with social research metho-
dology but with ethics, there is sufficient common ground to make the point.
134 Review Essay

Maclntyre's threesome are: the enlightenment or encyclopaedic paradigm; the

genealogical paradigm; and the Thomist or natural law paradigm. The first of
these corresponds to Guba's and Smith's Paradigm 1. The second is close to
Paradigm 2 in some respects, but not in others, as indicated by the fact that
Nietzsche and Foucault are taken as exemplars. This highlights the almost
complete absence from the two books under review of attention to post-structur-
alismit makes a significant appearance in Lather's contribution to Guba's
collection and in Grumet's interesting critical response to it, but nowhere else.
The third tradition Maclntyre discusses, and which he himself advocates, is
entirely missing from Guba and Smith's typologies. This neglect of the natural law
tradition is less surprising than that of post-structuralism. But, while it is hardly
represented at all within the field of educational research at the moment, at the
very least this perspective provides a useful context in which to consider the other
paradigms. After all, Paradigm 1 was in large part a reaction against medieval and
later natural law theory; and there are interesting similarities and differences
between it and Guba's three paradigms, as I will show later [2].
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There are other traditions that are neglected in the two books under review. An
obvious one, since it has been very influential in the development of social science
methodology, is neo-Kantianism. This omission creates distortion in Smith's
discussion of Max Weber's views, since he is forced by the framework he adopts
to present Weber as straddling Paradigms 1 and 2. While by no means unique to
Smith (e.g. Runciman, 1972), this is an interpretation that misconstrues Weber's
position in important respects (Burger, 1978; Oakes, 1988).
Of course, even an expansion to six paradigms would still not satisfactorily
cover the potential, or even the actual, range of methodological views to be found
amongst educational and social researchers. Furthermore, Guba's division into
three paradigms is built on a rather misleading view of the history of methodolo-
gical thinking about social research, a point that LeCompte makes in her
contribution to the collection. This thinking is portrayed as having been domi-
nated by positivism until recently, with post-positivism, constructivism, and critical
theory emerging in the wake of its collapse. However, most of the ideas involved
in these three paradigms have been available in one form or another at least since
the late nineteenth century. And while it is true that a set of ideas we can call
positivism has strongly influenced thinking about social and educational research
for much of the twentieth century, these ideas never totally dominated and were
subject to a multitude of interpretations. Indeed, there have been important
changes not just in the fortunes but also in the content of positivism over the
course of the past century. It is treated by these authors as realist and as
committed to the hypothetico-deductive method. Yet early in the twentieth
century there was a strong element of phenomenalism among positivists, exempli-
fied in the operationist movement. Furthermore, nineteenth century positivists,
and some twentieth century ones, were inductivists rather than being advocates of
the hypothetico-deductive method.
While frameworks of types of approach can certainly be useful, giving us some
purchase on a complex field, it is important that their instrumental function be
remembered, and that the dangers of omission and oversimplification that they
can produce be avoided. In my view both these books suffer from a failure in this
respect. For example, Guba states "the reader should never forget that the only
alternative to relativism is absolutism" (Guba, 1990, p. 18). While he does not tell
Review Essay 135

us what 'absolutism' means, we are left in no doubt that it is a bad thing. What it
seems to involve is rejection of other views out of hand and the belief that we can
gain absolutely certain knowledge about the world. But, of course, relativism is by
no means the only alternative to this rather extreme view, unless one defines that
term in a way that is so broad as to make it a nonsense, and this broad usage is
not the one that Guba uses elsewhere in the book. This sort of slippage in the
meaning of terms is characteristic of the Guba collection.
Smith's book also illustrates the way that typologies can mislead. At one point
he asks:
Is social and educational inquiry a matter of the discovery and descrip-
tion of how things really are, or is it a process of constructing realities
that depend for their acceptance on considerations of historical time
and cultural place? (1989, pp. 2-3)
Here again we are apparently faced with just two options, but these hardly
represent the range of epistemological views to be found among philosophers. In
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accepting that the goal of research is to discover the nature of reality, we do not
have to deny that any account of that nature is a construction; nor that it will be
accepted in particular times and places on the basis of considerations that are
taken to be cogent then and there but that are not judged so universally. To
paraphrase Shakespeare, quoted by Firestone (Guba, 1990, p. 105), there are
more things in philosophy than dreamt of by constructivists.
The adequacy of the presentations of the three paradigms in Guba's collection
is uneven. Constructivism is introduced by Guba in his opening chapter and
elaborated by Lincoln through an autobiographical account. These discussions
display a lack of philosophical sophistication, but the accounts provided later in
the book by Smith and Schwandt are better. Critical theory is the least well served
of the three paradigms, in that neither Guba's opening treatment nor Popkewitz's
plenary paper gives much clarification about what it entails. It comes across as
constructivism with a harder political edge, but retaining an element of meta-
physical realism that constructivists reject. No one else in the volume provides
much compensation for this poor treatment.
In one respect Paradigm 1 is the best served of all three paradigms in Guba's
book. Phillips provides an excellent account of recent developments in the
analytical philosophy of science, pointing out that these do not imply the
relativism embraced by constructivists. This chapter complements the accounts he
has provided elsewhere (Phillips, 1987, 1990). However, the other discussions of
positivism and post-positivism in the collection, and (in places) that in Smith's
book, border on caricature. Post-positivism is often conflated with positivism,
hence my inclusion of both under the head of Paradigm 1. They are portrayed as
treating the goal of research as producing representations of a reality that is
independent of them and of the researcher, whose validity is absolutely certain,
and which are value-free in the sense of being untainted by values. From this
point of view, the knowledge produced by research is intrinsically superior to the
views of others, the implication being that the latter must simply accept research
findings as valid on trust. Yet, it would be difficult to find anyone who holds or
held this view. More importantly, contrary to what Guba, Smith, and many of the
other contributors imply, it is not the case that one must either accept this
position or embrace constructivism (or critical theory).
136 Review Essay

Each of the components of Paradigm 1 identified above can be, and often have
been, interpreted in much more defensible forms. For instance, to treat research
as representing a reality that is independent of the researcher is to set up a mind-
reality dualism that has all sorts of unacceptable implications, as Smith docu-
ments. But this is not necessary to preserve the idea that the goal of research is
representation, or to render this goal feasible. All that is necessary is that the
phenomena being investigated (not reality as a whole) are causally independent of
the researcher, and this is to a large extent generally the case. Similarly, we can,
and must, recognise that research never reproduces the phenomena investigated,
producing some one true account of them. Rather, it is selective, according to the
particular focus and set of purposes motivating the research. But, once again, we
can accept this without undercutting the prospect of accurate representation
(Hammesley, 1992a, Chapters 1 and 4). And, as regards belief in the possibility of
knowledge whose validity is certain, while there are those who have adopted this
assumption, notably Descartes, it has been rejected by most analytic philosophers
of science, most obviously in the fallibilism of Peirce and Popper. It is not
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essential to Paradigm 1, at least not in its post-positivistic form.

The issue of value neutrality is the one where there is the most confusion. What
needs to be made clear here, and it is a scandal that it is so widely misunderstood,
is that this concept does not imply that research could or should be free from the
influence of values, contrary to what some contributors to the Guba volume
assume, including Lincoln and House. As used by its originator, Max Weber, the
term refers to the principle that value judgements should not be presented as if
they have been or could be scientifically validated, that researchers should seek to
minimise the influence of their views about how things ought to be on their
factual judgements about how they are, and that the main business of research
should be the production of factual rather than value conclusions. Weber did not
deny the influence of values on research findings, nor did he believe that their
influence was always deleterious. Indeed, it was recognition of that influence and
its complexity that led him to propose that social research should strive to be both
value relevant and value neutral, and to claim that an important function of it is
value clarification.
To his credit, in his book Smith provides an account of Weber's views on this
issue that is more accurate than many. But because he sees Weber as trying to
reconcile Paradigms 1 and 2, he comes to the erroneous conclusion that value
relevance is in conflict with value neutrality (Smith, 1989, p. 56), whereas they are
complementary. He also fails to realise the commonality between his constructiv-
ism and Weber's position: the latter is founded on the principle of value relativ-
ism. Finally, Smith cannot seem to decide whether his argument is that values
determine facts (which presupposes a distinction between the two) or that no
reasonable distinction can be made. It is largely because of this that he finds
Weber's views contradictory. For Weber, facts and values are distinct but there
can be no idiographic knowledge without values. Indeed, there could be no
knowledge at all without commitment to the value of truth. Not all proponents of
Paradigm 1 have upheld the principle of value neutrality as developed by Weber,
and adherence to the principle has not prevented value bias. But neither of these
facts undermines the validity of the principle.
Let me turn now to Paradigm 2, the alternative proposed by Smith, Guba, and
some of the other contributors to Guba's collection. It is a distinctive feature of
Review Essay 137

this position that the various approaches to educational research identified are
not treated as representing merely different tendencies, but rather as incommen-
surable paradigms. In other words, these approaches are logically coherent
positions founded on incompatible assumptions about the nature of the social
world and of social inquiry. These assumptions are presumed to prescribe the
whole character of research within the relevant paradigm. Thus, Lincoln claims
The adoption of a paradigm literally permeates every act even tangenti-
ally associated with inquiry, such that any consideration even remotely
attached to inquiry processes demands rethinking to bring decisions into
line with the worldview embodied in the paradigm itself. (Guba, 1990, p.
And Smith takes much the same view (1989, p. 5).
A direct implication of this position is relativism, and both Guba and Smith
explictly adopt that epistemological position. However, they vary in their appar-
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ent awareness of its implications, and in my view neither of them, nor any of their
fellow constructivists, recognises the true nature of the labyrinth that they have
One obvious way of addressing the issues raised in these books is to ask: which
of the three paradigms is the correct one? Yet, while both Guba and Smith adhere
to constructivism, neither is able to, nor claims to, establish its superiority. This is
reasonably clear from the language that they use. Thus, Smith declares that he
finds Paradigm 2 "more satisfying" (1989, p. 3), while Guba states that he "has
his own preference, for constructivism" (1990, p. 17). This is not a matter of false
modesty or of practically contingent failure on the part of these authors, leaving
the possibility of the superiority of Paradigm 2 being established on some future
occasion. It arises because establishing the superiority of that paradigm is
impossible in principle. This results from the well-known fact, noted by Smith,
that relativism is self-refuting (1989, p. 168).
Relativism is a position which in denying that there is any meta-paradigmatic
level at which the truth of paradigms can be determined, even in principle,
thereby itself surreptitiously makes a meta-paradigmatic claim. One result of this
is ambivalence on the part of constructivists towards the concept of reality. On
the one hand, they regard reality as constructed by people on the basis of their
paradigmatic assumptions. On the other, they recognise that such realities are
multiple and thereby presuppose a larger reality within which these various
constructed realities have a place, the task of the researcher being to document
this larger reality.
Thus, we find constructivists vacillating between two incompatible positions:
A. The first states that there is only one reality, that which is constructed by
one's own paradigm. There can be no overarching reality containing other
paradigms because there is no meta-paradigmatic level. The world simply is
how it appears to be, or how it can be construed to be on the basis of one's
paradigmatic assumptions. Even if someone could step out of one paradigm
into another, that would not allow her or him to engage in any relating of the
one to the other. Using the analogy of the well-known optical illusion, either
the faces are there or the vase is there, not both.
B. The second position proposes that constructivism alone provides an accurate
138 Review Essay

account of reality. But in doing so it operates at a meta-paradigmatic level:

what it claims is that the world is made up of groups of people with very
different perspectives. Furthermore, these are constructions not reflections
of some independent reality; and insofar as they do not contradict constructivism
they are all true in their own terms.
Guba moves between these two positions without any apparent awareness that
they are in conflict. Thus, operating on the basis of Position B, he declares that:
... there are many paradigms that we use in guiding our actions: the
adversarial paradigm that guides the legal system, the judgmental para-
digm that guides the selection of Olympic winners, the religious para-
digms that guide spiritual and moral life, and many others. (1990, p. 18)
And, as we have seen, he also identifies three paradigms relating to educational
research. Here he seems to be standing above all the paradigms and surveying
them from outside. Furthermore, he states that the purpose of the conference on
which his book is based was "to legitimate the two contenders not now enjoying
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hegemony, by demonstrating that their positions are at least as reasonable and useful as
those of either positivism or post-positivism (1990, p. 9, emphasis added). Clearly, this
claim is intended to be a general truth, not just a statement of what constructivists
believe; otherwise the argument would be circular.
At other times, Guba adopts Position A. Thus, before presenting his survey of
the three paradigms of educational research he comments:
I recognise that what I am about to say is my own construction, not
necessarily an objective (whatever that may be) analysis. Indeed, as we
shall see, constructivists not only abjure objectivity but celebrate subjec-
tivity. (1990, p. 17)
This passage is representative of much of the writing in the Guba volume in its
lack of clarity. In one sentence Guba denies knowing what objectivity is, only to
treat the meaning of the term as obvious in the next. And notice that he does not
say that his construction is not objective, only that it is not necessarily objective;
yet who would claim that their accounts are necessarily objective? Even so, it
would seem that Guba recognises here that constructivism, in the form of
Position A, does not allow him to claim that his account of the other paradigms,
even of their existence, .is anything more than his own paradigm-relative perspec-
tive. Perhaps this recognition is also the reason why Lincoln argues that resear-
chers should be trained in a single paradigm not multiple paradigms (Guba, 1990,
p. 87); whereas Reinharz, perhaps influenced by Position B, goes in the other
direction, advocating that students be encouraged to invent their own paradigms
(Guba, 1990, p. 300).
The same tension between incompatible positions is found in Smith's book.
Early on, he states that:
... even though this author finds the interpretive perspective more
satisfying, the intent is much less to advocate one perspective over
another than it is to present as straightforward a discussion as possible
of the underlying issues involved in this discussion (1989, p. 3)
Given that the paradigms are incommensurable (that is assuming Position A), how
can Smith present a straightforward discussion that does not advocate one side or
the other? Any discussion would be premissed on the validity of one or other of the
Review Essay 139

paradigms. Of course, if Smith were to accept Paradigm 1 the paradigms would

not be incommensurable and he could do this. But if he is a constructivist he
cannot! And he does not. While his book has an even-handed appearance, it
implicitly advocates the interpretive perspective. The pattern almost throughout
is a presentation of the objectivist view, followed by an account of the criticisms
directed at this view by interpretivists and their own positive proposals. It is only
in the last chapter that we are given any hint of the criticisms that objectivists
make of the interpretivist position, and then only briefly [3].
Another illustration of this commitment to conflicting positions is the assump-
tion of both Guba and Smith that paradigms can be criticised in terms of their
internal consistency [see Guba (1990, p. 373) and Smith's criticism of Weber for
being contradictory (Smith, 1989, p. 95)]. This would be possible from Position
B, if consistency were a denning criterion built into the concept of paradigm.
However, it is not a legitimate criterion from the point of view of Position A. For
the consistent relativist it is no more possible to justify consistency as a paradigm-
transcendent criterion than any other! It may be that the three paradigms under
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consideration share a commitment to consistency, but it is quite possible that

others do not, and constructivists cannot rule these out. But in any case, from a
Position A point of view, it is not likely, or perhaps even possible, that 'consis-
tency' will have an equivalent meaning within different paradigms. Much the same
applies to the hopes of the two authors that the paradigm disputes can be
transcended. Relativism rules this out since transcendence implies paradigm-
neutral criteria of judgement.
This vacillation between the two positions is understandable, since each of them
has troublesome implications. If the first is true it is only true from a constructiv-
ist point of view and is false from the point of view of Paradigm 1, and we have no
way of adjudicating between these two perspectives. Even from the point of view
of constructivism, those committed to Paradigm 1 may quite legitimately continue
to regard their research as directed towards understanding the nature of social
reality from an objective perspective, and even claim to have achieved this. The
very idea of representatives of the paradigms engaging in debate with one
another, on which the Guba collection is founded, is ruled out by Position A.
There is no possibility of it, and no need for it. The second position avoids these
problems, but only at the cost of constructivists having to try to show that their
account and judgements of the positions currently adopted by educational
researchers is superior to that of the other paradigms. Yet constructivism pro-
vides no resources for such epistemological justification. Indeed, it denies that
very possibility.
It may seem that my criticisms of the accuracy of Smith's and Guba's accounts
of Paradigms 1 and 2 are open to question on the general grounds that their
validity is relative to my own paradigmatic assumptions. But even from a construc-
tivist point of view this would only be true for constructivists. Since I am not a
constructivist, it is not true for me, even from a constructivist point of view! Put
another way, if constructivist relativism is true it is true only within the framework
of constructivism. Hence, beyond that framework truth is not relative, so that the
validity of my arguments is not relative to my paradigm. Constructivists may be in
a hall of mirrors, but the rest of us do not have to join them.
Over and above its epistemological self-destructiveness, there are other, practi-
cal, reasons for rejecting constructivism. The most important is that it logically
140 Review Essay

excludes its adherents from engaging in the normal process of social research.
Lather seems to take this view the furthest, quoting Said to the effect that social
science should forget itself and become something else (Guba, 1990, p. 315). But
it seems implicit in some of the other contributions too. The conventional view is
that social and educational research is concerned with documenting not just
people's perspectives but also their actions, for example reporting the ways in
which powerful groups structure the situations in which the less powerful live.
Taken to its logical conclusion, constructivism rules out any such investigation.
The point of origin of constructivism is the denial that research accounts can be
in any sense more valid than those of participants. And the constructivist
adaptation to this is to redefine the goal of research as the documentation of
participant perspectives, and to redefine truth in terms of respondent validation.
In LeCompte's words (Guba, 1990, p. 252), the educational researcher is turned
into a folklorist or collector of stories. In practice, of course, constructivists may
be selective in how they apply their ideas, seeking to document the perspectives of
underdogs, but describing the activities of overdogs in ways that the latter would
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not accept. But there is no principle built into constructivism that would allow or
justify that selectivity. Worse than this, though, this version of constructivism does
not avoid the problem of representation, it simply transposes it to another level:
that between the researcher's account and the accounts of participants. And once
we recognise that the researcher's account of participants' accounts is itself only a
construction, the full implications become clear. The obvious questions that arise
are: Why should policy-makers and practitioners take any notice of research? Why
should anyone fund it? Indeed, why should students be educated in one or other
or any paradigm?
Up to now I have been concerned with the epistemological aspects of construc-
tivism and their implications. While important, these are probably not the driving
force behind it. It is not simply a scientific paradigm. At its heart is a rejection of
truth, however defined, as the goal of inquiry. What is to be put in its place is
some conception of the political good life. Smith declares that the regulative ideal
of constructivism is solidarity (Guba, 1990, p. 179), appealing to the work of
Rorty (1985); though neither he nor Rorty is clear about exactly what this entails,
with whom researchers should (and should not?) seek solidarity, why this value
should be taken as pre-eminent, or why it should be the particular concern of
educational researchers. What seems to be involved, for constructivists like
Lincoln at least, is an extension of commitment to equality, so that within
educational research all voices must be treated as equal, and such research must
be directed towards achieving equal representation for all voices in society. This
certainly implies a dramatic reorientation of educational and social research, yet
there is little supporting argument provided to convince those of us who believe
that this is an over-extension of the concept of equality, and who regard equality
as only one of several important values by which public and private life should be
governed. And, as we have seen, ironically, the relativist character of constructiv-
ism rules out the possibility of such dialogue.
This value commitment of constructivism brings it quite close to that of some
forms of critical theory, but in other respects Paradigms 2 and 3 are quite
different. I mentioned earlier the poor treatment of critical theory in the Guba
volume. Neither Popkewitz nor any of the other contributors relate it to its
Marxist and Hegelian background (indeed one participant at the conference
Review Essay 141

apparently complained that Marxism had been absent, see Guba, 1990, p. 362).
Without that background it is impossible to recognise that Paradigm 3 does
represent a quite coherent and distinctive position, instead of an eclectic and
incoherent synthesis of elements from the other two paradigms. Of course,
spelling out that background immediately reveals some assumptions, for instance
about the teleological development of history, that are difficult to defend,
especially in a climate of constructivist and post-structuralist relativism (Hammer-
sley, 1992a, Ch. 6). It is perhaps for this reason that advocates of this position
today play down that background, apparently seeking the social science equivalent
of the alchemist's formula: a position that is both relativistic and 'critical' [4]. And
there are signs in the constructivist camp of such ambitions too, notably in the
chapter by Lincoln where she lists empowerment as one of the criteria by which
case studies should be judged (Guba, 1990, p. 74). However, it should be obvious
that the labyrinthine character of relativism rules out any possibility of a critique
that anybody who does not accept the assumptions of the critics needs to take
seriously. Ultimately, all the relativist can say is that, for example, the beliefs of
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racists and sexists may be true in their own terms but are not true from her or his
perspective. This hardly seems a strong basis for concerted political action [5]. It
also implies that there is little scope for reasoned argument in politics; resolution
of conflict by coercion seems the only likely solution.
At this point, we might usefully try to sum up what seem to be the main options
that social researchers face. Earlier I mentioned the natural law tradition. That
tradition holds that rational and universally valid knowledge is possible about
value issues. From this point of view science is not restricted to the factual
domain. At the same time, rational inquiry is held to be founded on faith. Guba's
three paradigms each accept some parts of this but reject others:
Paradigm 1 rejects reliance on faith in favour of the possibility of sound,
universally valid knowledge on the basis of rational inquiry alone, but only in
the factual domain. Neo-Kantianism also falls into this category [6].
Paradigm 2 rejects the possibility of universally valid knowledge in either
domain (indeed, the distinction between the two may be abandoned). All
knowledge is the product of inquiry that takes some set of founding assump-
tions on faith.
Paradigm 3 historicises natural law theory, retaining the possibility of rational
universally valid knowledge of both factual and value matters, but regards
this as only becoming available through a process of historical development
into which the potential for realising it, and a society based on it, is built.
In my judgement, this typology gives a more accurate view of the general
philosophical positions that are available to educational researchers than does
that around which the Guba volume is organised; though of course it carries the
dangers associated with any typology, which I outlined earlier. All four positions
suffer from serious problems that need to be addressed. In my judgement
Paradigm 1 remains the most promising, but this is by no means to deny that
much can be learned from the others.
I suspect that for many readers of this review the question will have arisen as to
whether these philosophical debates have any practical implications for educa-
tional research. Can they not be left to the philosophers? As we have seen, Guba
and Smith think not. They do so on the grounds of what has been referred to as
142 Review Essay

methodological holismthe idea that researchers' philosophical and practical

assumptions form, or should form, a coherent whole with the first determining
the second. As Firestone points out in his contribution to the Guba volume, this
view is not accurate empirically nor does it represent a desirable ideal. Philosophi-
cal assumptions do not have strongly determinate implications for how we should
carry out research, nor are they a privileged starting point. The experience of
doing research is just as likely legitimately to throw doubt on our philosophical
assumptions as reflection on those assumptions is likely to change our research
practices. For these reasons I do not believe that philosophical issues are as
significant for the practice of educational research as Guba and Smith do. At the
same time, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that there is at least one area of
dispute that does have major implications for practice. The question here is: What
is the goal of educational research? How one answers that question has dramatic
implications for how one goes about research; indeed for whether one engages in
research at all. These books raise that question, but the constructivist answer
towards which they suggest many educational researchers in the USA are moving
is not one that bodes well for the future. While both Guba and Smith express
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hopes for peaceful transcendence of paradigms, constructivism seems to imply

that the wars can only go on.

Correpondence: Martyn Hammersley, School of Education, The Open University,

Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK.

[1] It is worth comparing this volume with another recently published conference collection in the
same area, edited by two of the contributors to this one and involving some of the others (Eisner
& Peshkin, 1990). This collection covers some of the same topics (subjectivity and objectivity,
validity, ethics, the uses of qualitative research), as well as one that is not dealt with in the Guba
volume, generalisability. Here also there is some unevenness, though in my judgement the quality
overall is somewhat higher than in the Guba collection (Hammersley, 1992b). Taken together
these two volumes give an impression of very considerable diversity in methodological perspective
among US educational researchers.
[2] In fact, rather misleadingly, Schwandt treats Maclntyre's position as constructivist in his contribu-
tion to the Guba volume (p. 268). Smith draws on Leo Strauss's criticisms of Weber (Smith, 1989,
p. 95), but without any indication of the direction from which those criticisms come.
[3] Smith's treatment of the three paradigms in his article in the Guba collection is more even-
handed. Here he does give equal mention to others' criticisms of constructivism. In that chapter
the balance seems to be tipped towards Position B, but still without the dilemma being resolved.
[4] This eclectic mixture is also to be found in Apple and Roman's contribution to the Eisner and
Peshkin volume.
[5] This is a point that has been recognised by some feminists in their responses to post-structuralism,
as Lather notes (Guba, 1990, pp. 319-320); though she does not seem to recognise the
intractability of the problem.
[6] There are a few advocates of this paradigm who believe that values can be based on science. For a
discussion, see Keat (1981).

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Review Essay 143

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